Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté

As Citroën’s Grand Tourisme with the Italian heart celebrates its fiftieth birthday this year, we peruse the few brochures printed during its brief tenure at the summit of the French firm’s hierarchy.

All Images: The author.

The ambitious SM of 1970 took the Citroën brand into a hitherto unexplored market segment. Instead of Peugeot, Rover, Renault and Lancia – to name a few – now it entered an arena occupied by names such as Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Jensen and BMW. Still, the initial reception was overwhelmingly favourable – the SM placing third in that year’s European Car of the Year contest (the GS won that year), and voted Motor Trend Car of the Year in the American market in 1972.

The vast majority of road tests worldwide resulted in positive to rave reviews, in most cases accompanied by a few provisos concerning the SM’s comparatively leisurely acceleration and the very direct DIRAVI power steering with variable assistance – although it was usually stated that most drivers would not want to Continue reading “Joyeux Anniversaire, Majesté”

Going Pear-Shaped

The Renault 14 had the potential to be a great success, but it did not turn out that way. DTW investigates.

(c) auto-forever

The 1976 Renault 14 was the end-product of an unusual and protracted development process. It began with a memorandum of understanding signed in April 1966 between Renault and Peugeot for the joint purchase of materials and co-development of mechanical parts that would be shared between the two manufacturers, to reduce costs for each.

Another more controversial aspect of the agreement was, allegedly, an understanding that each manufacturer would design models that did not directly compete with the other. The agreement was driven by the ambition of Pierre Dreyfus, CEO of Renault since 1955, to Continue reading “Going Pear-Shaped”

New Frontier (Part One)

Over a series of articles, we examine yesterday’s vision of the future – peak chevron, Sa Majesté – the incomparable Citroën SM.

(c) stubs-auto.fr

Observing events through a half-century old prism can make for a faulty tool; contemporary visions of the future appearing to modern eyes, slightly naïve and somewhat inaccurate. Not necessarily a consequence of inexperience or ill-thought execution – certainly not in this particular case – it is as likely to pivot around the manner in which socio-economic factors, and customer tastes evolve, to say nothing of the relentless march of time itself.

Has any carmaker done more to Continue reading “New Frontier (Part One)”

The Labour and the Wounds Are Vain – Turin Motor Show 1970 Part 1

Fifty years from the day it opened, we look back at the 1970 Salone dell’Automobile di Torino.

Italdesign Porsche 914 Tapiro Image: viaretro.com

In late 1970 much of Europe was in the grip of a pandemic, but not one which hindered the annual motor show round which had started in neutral Amsterdam and closed in Turin with a high-art extravaganza where function took a distant third place after form and fashion.

The pandemic was not biological but ideological, manifesting itself in social, political and industrial turmoil, and acts of terrorism by far-left, far-right and nationalist elements. In Italy the phenomenon was given a name – Anni di piombo – ‘The Leaden Years’, and was to Continue reading “The Labour and the Wounds Are Vain – Turin Motor Show 1970 Part 1”

A Failure of Nerve

In 1966 Peugeot and Renault formulated an ambitious plan to take on the incumbents in the luxury car market. Sadly, both companies got cold feet and their dream went unrealised. DTW recounts the story of Projet H.

Image: Christopher Butt

With the successful launch of the 16 in 1965, Renault had a large five-door FWD hatchback to complement its (not so) small 4 model. The range would be augmented with the medium-sized 6 in 1968 and completed with the 5 supermini in 1972 . These hatchbacks sat alongside its rear-engined 8 and 10 saloons for more conservative customers.

However, the company lacked a large and prestigious car as a flagship for its range. Likewise Peugeot, where the largest model was the well-regarded 404 saloon, launched in 1960. Both manufacturers eyed Citröen with a degree of envy. The Double Chevron’s large DS model, although already a decade old, had been so advanced and futuristic at launch that it still looked handsome and prestigious.

It was a fitting ‘halo’ model for the marque, notwithstanding the idiosyncratic appearance of Citröen’s smaller cars. The DS was also the choice for official transport at the Elysée Palace, giving Citröen kudos that was jealously coveted by both Billancourt and Sochaux.

Both manufacturers were allegedly nervous about the market potential for a large and luxurious car bearing their marque names, so they agreed in April 1966 to Continue reading “A Failure of Nerve”

Dole It Out, Samuel

A big car for a big country. Introducing the very first Duesenberg. 

It’s a Duesie. (c) Hemmings.com

This is pure American history. It’s definitely the most significant vehicle now in the museum’s collection – even if it weren’t restored, it’d still be at the top of that list. It’s not just a car, it’s a family’s history and legacy.” Brendan Anderson. 

Using nothing but my imagination, the American car industry of the mid-teens to late 1920s conjures images of cityscapes swarming with Model Ts, Oldsmobiles, Buicks and the like in fast-paced black and white. Or, in glorious technicolour, causing rooster tails of dust on the plains, perhaps outrunning the law or maybe enjoying the thrill of newfound speed. Never once considering the idea of fruit and cars to be connected – other than a vehicle for moving the produce – it has come to light more recently that this fruit/ car intersection goes far deeper than peel.

Fred and August Duesenberg were highly regarded motor racers. With cash from victories and contracts connected with the Great War, they decided to Continue reading “Dole It Out, Samuel”

3 + 1 = 500

Fiat introduces a Quattroporte – well, sort of. 

(c) topgear

As the year that wasn’t continues to limp towards an ever decreasing conclusion, and our plaintive requests to the authorities for a refund continues to fall upon deaf ears, the short-lived product offensive which briefly appeared to be taking place within the auto industry earlier in the Autumn appears to have sputtered and popped, rather like a badly misfiring internal combustion engine. Those infernal devices, which it seems are no longer to Continue reading “3 + 1 = 500”

Lucky Seven

Four into five equals seven. A brief look back at a uniquely Iberian Cinq. 

(c) stubs-auto.fr

A mainstay of the European motoring scene from its inception in 1962, Renault’s rear-engined R8 saloon was also (it’s stated) assembled in the former Eastern bloc, North Africa, Laos, South America, Australia and New Zealand. The French state-run carbuilder ceased production at the Flins plant, outside Paris in 1973. Renault never directly replaced the 8 – well actually, that’s not entirely true.

The early 1970s witnessed a period of profound change and consolidation for many carmakers, who were keen not only to Continue reading “Lucky Seven”

Coupé à la Française

DTW recalls the 1971 Renault 15 and 17, La Régie’s distinctively French take on the sporting coupé.

Renault 15 & 17. (c) stubs-auto .fr

The 1969 Renault 12 saloon was an immediate hit for its manufacturer. It was praised by European motoring journalists for its styling, spacious and comfortable interior, and good performance and fuel economy. It was based on a new platform that placed the engine longitudinally ahead of the front axle and gearbox. On Renault’s existing FWD models, the 4, 6 and 16, the engine was positioned behind the gearbox, necessitating a distinctly unsporting high bonnet line and dashboard mounted gear lever.

Renault had not offered a coupé in its range since the demise of the Dauphine-based Caravelle in 1968, and only 9,309 Caravelles had been sold in the last three years of its production. Moreover, the European coupé market had been transformed by the launch of the Ford Capri Mk1 in 1969 and Opel Manta A a year later. The new coupés were closely related to their mainstream saloon siblings, the Cortina Mk2 and Ascona A. More significantly, they were styled to look aggressively sporting, masculine rather than demure in character.

Renault decided that it could usefully Continue reading “Coupé à la Française”

Nomen Est Omen

We return to the minefield of automotive nomenclature. Mind where you step. 

Highly infectious. (c) Tata Corporation

The process of naming a new car can be surprisingly complex and drawn-out, and even then certain pitfalls are sometimes overlooked, causing delays, unplanned expenditure and in a few cases, embarrassment and retraction. These pitfalls can be largely be categorized in lingual miscues (mostly of the sexual or scatological variety), historically insensitive names, legal copyright infringements, or simple bad luck.*

To start with that latter category: Tata Motors introduced a new small car in 2016 named Zica. Unfortunately for the Indian manufacturer, the introduction coincided with the outbreak of the fearsome Zika virus in South America; the Zica hastily renamed Tiago. All press photos had to be redone, previously built Zicas had to Continue reading “Nomen Est Omen”

Keeping the Seat Warm

The 1984 Alfa 90 was to all intents and purposes something of a placeholder. But does it deserve a better epitaph?

Alfa 90. Image: viaretro

The early 1980s were difficult years for Alfa Romeo. Having abandoned its patrician pre-war roots for a more populist reimagining throughout the 1950s and ’60s, this once successful market realignment had started to unravel; partly due to its own failings as a business, both internally from a product, management and labour perspective, and also externally, owing to its close proximity in market terms to Lancia.

Unlike its Borgo San Paolo rival, who was by then reliant upon the financial support of the Fiat car giant, Alfa Romeo depended upon the largesse of the often reluctant Italian IRI state body for funding, while battling a depressed home market, ageing model lines and by consequence, little by way of genuinely new product.

What there was, fell very much into the make do and Continue reading “Keeping the Seat Warm”

Destined To Shine

Gilded lilies, like most things in life are relative. The Golden Angel Wing however, out-guilds most.

A regular Mercedes (Ponton) 220S. Image: wallpaperup

Like us poor scribes, the brains behind the processes of car making spend countless hours honing and perfecting, improving and re-checking to ascertain the best that is possible at a given moment in time. Midnight oil is a precious resource which, dependant on the individual, can prove somewhat finite, with unfortunate consequences lingering by.

Concerning cars, now factor in updates, facelifts, upgrades – call them what you will – they must be considered. The 1953 Mercedes-Benz W120 (or Ponton as it was better known) was a plain but honest, safe yet somewhat bland quality conveyance. Built primarily in Stuttgart, these one eighties (as they were badged) made impacts the world over. Continue reading “Destined To Shine”

One Last Push (Part Two)

DTW concludes its brief history of the post-WW2 rear-engined Renaults.

Renault 8 and 10 models. (c) lautomobileancienne

By 1960 the Renault Dauphine, while still popular, was beginning to look somewhat dated. The front-wheel-drive Renault 4 was at an advanced stage of development and would be launched in 1961. This would be the first of four identically formatted models, with engines mounted longitudinally behind the front axle, the gearbox placed in front, necessitating a gear lever mounted high on the dashboard, with the linkage passing over the engine.

The 4 would be followed by the large 16 in 1965, the mid-size 6 in 1968, and the supermini 5 in 1972. All would be hatchback designs with five doors, apart from the 5, which would initially be available only as a three-door.

Notwithstanding these plans, Renault still believed there was life in the rear-engined saloon layout and set about to Continue reading “One Last Push (Part Two)”

Act of Defiance

Amid the Pandemic’s height, a reminder of a more resilient time.

All images: the author

There is a certain perverse satisfaction in driving what in automotive terms amounts to an old shoe. Banger, beater, clunker or jalopy – whatever term you prefer, once a car reaches a certain level of decrepitude, the keeper soon realises that not only is there no route back, but that they have been released – freed from the grinding tyranny of upkeep. It is now possible to Continue reading “Act of Defiance”

Some German Car News

A man walks into a bierhalle… hilarity ensues. 

The Posaidon G. (c) Autocar

The English language can be difficult enough to understand for those born to it – what chance the hapless non-native speaker dicing with the contrafibularities of cultural differences? How perfidious, Albion.

Comedy is a difficult mare to ride – relevance at risk to hosts of material becoming lost in translation. Anglophile German comedian, Henning Wehn, by example, once extoled upon the difficulties of learning such English idiosyncratic words as Gubbins (meaning possessions or the antecedent to ‘thing-y’). Contrary to that hackneyed old saw, our German friends are not only adept at comedy, they can also mine that more difficult vein of irony for good measure, as a (fairly) recent trawl through AutoCropley laid abundantly and amusingly bare.

In no particular order, since comedy can be dark just as well as light hearted, we look to our Stuttgart stooges, Mercedes-Benz and their G-Wagen. Well, not directly, since the German tuning firm, Posaidon (their spelling) have deemed it necessary to Continue reading “Some German Car News”

One Last Push (Part One)

Today DTW remembers Renault’s post-WW2 series of rear-engined cars.

1954 Renault 4CV Brochure (c) autoweek.com

The post-war worldwide success of the Volkswagen Beetle* encouraged manufacturers as diverse as Fiat, NSU, Renault, Rootes, Skoda, ZAZ and even General Motors to emulate its mechanical layout, with varying fortunes. In doing so, many appeared to miss the point that the Beetle was successful despite rather than because of its rear-engined layout.

A rear-engined design typically involves many compromises with regard to packaging for luggage space, engine accessibility and cooling, and handling and stability. The smaller the car, the less important these compromises are, but the layout becomes increasingly unviable as the design becomes larger and more powerful. Porsche spent the best part of sixty years engineering out the instability** caused by having a heavy weight mounted aft of the rear axle on the 911, while General Motors suffered huge reputational damage because of claims of dangerous instability made about the rear-engined Mk1 Chevrolet Corvair.

During WW2, Renault was controlled by the occupying German forces and was under orders to build only military and commercial vehicles in support of the Third Reich’s war effort. Renault’s Director of Design, Fernand Picard, anticipated that, after the war, France would need a small and economical car to Continue reading “One Last Push (Part One)”

Talent Borrows

Did the Deauville’s somewhat over-familiar appearance ensure it would be the second rarest De Tomaso of all? We investigate.

de Tomaso Deauville. (c) classic-driver

The early 1970s (prior to 1974 at least) proved to be something of an Indian summer for the European exotic car businesses. Demand for exclusive hand-built GTs was brisk, both in Europe and especially in North America, and for those ateliers who lacked the wherewithal (or the inclination) to engineer their own power units, there was a ready supply of powerful and proven engines to be obtained and repurposed from the major OEMs in Detroit.

For specialist carmakers such as Bristol and Jensen Cars in the UK, Iso in Italy and Monteverdi in Switzerland, this would prove to be a godsend, until the oil taps were turned off at least. Another fledgling exotic carmaker was that of De Tomaso, headed by Argentinian businessman and ace deal-maker Alejandro de Tomaso. Having taken over the struggling carrozzeria Ghia concern in 1967, he approached Ford with a proposal to Continue reading “Talent Borrows”

Sinusoidal

In today’s instalment, Andrew gets up close and personal with his Nimrod.

All images – the author.

Waves arrive in many forms; tidal, sound, shock, metaphysical even. Relating to my recent motor purchase, all of these and more were felt, some stronger than others. All made an impact, some longer lasting than others. Ownership (counted in minutes ) can be compared to a stone’s impact in water. The ripple effect: having apart from thirty two years behind a steering wheel, hardly any road testing experience – no car swopping auto journalist am I.

Yet perched on sumptuous leather, the view of that long bonnet out front, the rear in another post code, I felt a swell inside. A comforting sense of justification, an encompassing sense of the surreal – a car detached from reality, in my grasp. Disturbing waves are calmed, replaced by mellifluous currents. And this merely driving away from the Lamborghini hard standing.

Electing to foreswear the entire journey home on motorways by heading off piste provided an opportunity to allow the inner Setright to Continue reading “Sinusoidal”

Forgotten Hero

Overshadowed by both its predecessor and successor, the 1990 E36 generation BMW 3 Series celebrates its thirtieth birthday this year, but will anyone turn up for the party?

BMW E36 Saloon. (c) autoevolution

By the late 1980’s, the E30 generation 3-Series, although still popular and well liked, was beginning to look (and feel) distinctly old fashioned. The E30 had been in production since 1982 and was, stylistically, a careful update of the 1975 E21 original. The 1986 E32 7 Series and 1988 E34 5 Series had introduced a new and more dynamic style for BMW. It was time for the 3 Series to follow suit.

The E36 was launched in October 1990 in four-door saloon form, followed shortly by a two-door coupé version. The design was credited to Pinky Lai and Boyke Boyer. The coupé represented a break with 3 Series tradition for BMW: the E30 two-door was a saloon that shared its profile and most body panels with its four-door sibling, while the E21 was produced in two-door saloon* form only.

With the E36, the saloon and coupé shared no external body panels. The saloon’s doors were one-piece pressings incorporating window frames that covered the A-pillars and concealed the roof drip-rails. The coupé instead employed frameless door glasses. Even items one might expect to Continue reading “Forgotten Hero”

Stuck In Neutral

How Billancourt was presented with an unexpected proposal for an ultra-basic car, not by the product committee, but from the mighty French labour union.

Renault Neutral proposal. (c) Conceptcarz com

The mid eighties were tough times for Renault. Georges Besse had become CEO in January 1985 and was confronted with an alarming financial situation: between 1984 and 1985 losses were spiralling – amounting to in the region of 10 billion Francs. Furthermore, the alliance in the USA with American Motors was costing enormous amounts of money, with little headway to show for in return. In an effort to Continue reading “Stuck In Neutral”

Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be

When it comes to facelifts, it’s best to know when to stop. 

(c) autoevolution

Assuming one was in possession of the requisite grasp of Italian, it would have been fascinating to have sat in on the product planning meetings at Portello, when Alfa Romeo’s strategists were initially scoping the 1972 Alfetta saloon. Because, looking at it from the distance of close to half a century, it’s difficult to ascertain where this model was intended to fit into the existing model hierarchy. Sitting above the by then rather elderly 105-Series Giulia, but below the latter’s closely related 1750/2000 Berlina sibling, the Alfetta was an entirely new model, with the potential to Continue reading “Under the Knife – When You Should Just Let Things Be”

When Good Enough Just Wasn’t Enough

Once ubiquitous on our roads, the 1979 Kadett D / Astra Mk1, GM Europe’s first front-wheel-drive car, is long forgotten and sadly overlooked, even here at DTW. Belatedly, we celebrate its 40th birthday.

1979 Opel Kadett four-door and five-door (c) wheelsage.org

There was considerable ballyhoo when Ford unveiled its first FWD Escort in September 1980. Few now remember that Opel actually beat Ford by a whole year in the switch to FWD for its C-Segment stalwart, the Kadett. Moreover, the Kadett D became the Vauxhall Astra in March 1980, replacing the geriatric Viva.

It was not the first badge-engineered Vauxhall with no sheet-metal differences to its Opel sibling. That dubious honour goes to the 1978 Royale saloon and coupé, better known as the Opel Senator and Monza. That said, the Astra Mk1 did mark the end of Vauxhall’s design and engineering independence from its German cousin. In future all GM Europe siblings would Continue reading “When Good Enough Just Wasn’t Enough”

Driven, Written: Work Conquers All

Continuing our Foundation Course in Dacia Studies, a DTW writer examines the outgoing model’s textual significances through a year and a half of real-life experience of a Sandero 1.0 Sce75.

Gérard Detourbet 1946-2019. Image: The Hindu Business Line

I have so far yet to drive a Logan or Duster, but over the last eighteen months I’ve run up lots of Sandero miles. Does it keep Louis Schweitzer and Gérard Detourbet’s vision alive?

Our Sandero was a collegiate purchase, and democratic principles applied. My favoured choice of car is made in the factory which gave us the Alfasud, but I was outvoted. FCA’s lack of regard for EuroNCAP ratings did not help my cause. Grim commerce and rules of procurement prevailed and we were treated to this ageing star of the developing world’s carmaking industry. Continue reading “Driven, Written: Work Conquers All”

Am I Gonna Make It, Doc?

Well son, there’s good news and bad news… 

2021 XF. Image: autonxt

It has been a busy week at Gaydon, with Jaguar Land Rover’s PR machine being cranked into renewed operation following a brief hiatus. The news this week is what one might best describe as mixed. But since most news items these days are of the most demoralising variety, let us first Continue reading “Am I Gonna Make It, Doc?”

To the Guillotine!

The coupé-cabriolet, otherwise known as the hardtop convertible, is an endangered species. DTW will not be shedding many tears at its passing.

mercedes
1996 Mercedes R170 SLK. (c) mercedesfans.de

The 1996 Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster was a great concept, executed woefully. Despite having a multitude of dynamic, quality, reliability and durability-related shortcomings, the SLK was an enormously successful model that rewarded its maker’s cynicism handsomely.

These issues were not, of course, apparent to the many early customers who endured a nine-month waiting list to Continue reading “To the Guillotine!”

Scandinavian Flick

The DTW fleet gains a new entrant. 

All images: the author.

Humans: funny creatures with emotions, feelings and urges. What was the divining moment, the will to leap from a car I’ve known and enjoyed for nearly five years to one that could be respectfully called a Swedish Bentley? A feeling named ennui – my Octavia was perfectly fine – but that was then. Could it be vanity coming a’ calling, age related issues (knees, back) maybe, appealing to more sybaritic senses, or could it be boiled down to simply wanting a change?

Even with regular washing and polishing, the Škoda sparkle had waned. I’ve compared the feelings I underwent, for no-one forced this issue upon me, to that of a seasoned motor racing driver. Not necessarily a champion, but one in need of a new direction, a fresh challenge with an unfamiliar team, and, most importantly, a new steed. With change, different objectives could be sought out. The daily commute might remain constant but the excitement could be enhanced, surely?

The decision to Continue reading “Scandinavian Flick”

Getting Personal

Analysing three different takes on the personal luxury car of 1963.

All images: The author.

The personal luxury car is a uniquely American phenomenon; its closest cousin in concept would have been the European GT, but this transatlantic specimen was a larger, softer (but on a straight piece of road not necessarily slower) breed. There is a fairly general consensus that Ford was the first to Continue reading “Getting Personal”

Beavering Away

Hard to believe now, but the 1968 Escort required an explanation. 

Image: silodrome

The 105E Anglia was not by any standards a bad car. In fact, it was rather a good one, especially by the reckoning of the time. It did however arrive at an inconvenient time. By this I mean a point when the tailfin was beginning its inexorable retreat into the history books, albeit one which would happen at considerably slower speed on this side of the Atlantic. Because not only did Europe arrive comparatively late to the tailfin party, it imbibed more sparingly and made its effects last longer; in same cases, well into the 1970s.

The Anglia’s appearance was also a somewhat inconvenient one for rivals, BMC, who were themselves releasing an inexpensive small car into the marketplace the same year, leading potential customers to Continue reading “Beavering Away”

Under the Knife – One for the Record Books

The 1977 Opel Rekord E was a spacious, comfortable and practical car.  It was also somewhat plain and austere looking. A well-judged facelift changed it for the better.

1977 Opel Rekord E (c) autoevolution.com

The 1971 Opel Rekord D was a finely wrought and handsome design. Penned by Chuck Jordan, a GM ‘lifer’ and Opel’s Head of Design, it successfully melded GM’s transatlantic design influences with a clean, almost ascetic European reserve. The beauty was in its smooth, unadorned flanks, elegantly flared elliptical wheel arches, neatly integrated light clusters front and rear, and a total lack of superfluous ornamentation.

By comparison, its Vauxhall Victor FE cousin, released just three months later and sharing its platform and other components, was somewhat heavy-handed and certainly more brash and mid-Atlantic looking. This was tacitly acknowledged by Vauxhall in its advertising, where the FE was nicknamed ‘The Transcontinental’. Continue reading “Under the Knife – One for the Record Books”

Anastasis

We examine the death and afterlife of the Triumph Stag.

Image: wallpaperup

Some cars are easier to write about than others. Failures in particular exert a stronger grip upon the imagination, better lending themselves to narrative. However, despite falling into the latter category, the Triumph Stag is a car which almost defies classification. Because, while there is little doubt about its status as both commercial failure and potential ownership nightmare, its story has been told and retold so many times that one struggles to Continue reading “Anastasis”

Kiwi? Czech!

From Bradford via Mlada Boleslav to Middle Earth – DTW takes a circuitous (if scenic) narrative route. 

All images (c) Škoda Storyboard.com

The story of an expatriate entrepreneur from Blighty by the name of Arthur Turner, who created an Aoterean automotive empire from a milk delivery business is an unlikely one, but stranger things have probably happened in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Free from governmental import license fees, the Jowett Bradford van delivering that milk proved the spark that lit the Turner flame. Soon enough, the Javelin landed on Kiwi soil, along with Turner’s new facilities to make them there, sadly just as the Bradford firm hit the skids.

Turner sought out a deal with Heinrich Nordhoff who insisted VW could Continue reading “Kiwi? Czech!”